Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards signed a new law on Tuesday that eliminates prison time for the possession of modest amounts of marijuana.
The new law is the latest move away from Louisiana’s traditionally strict stance on the drug. The bill makes the possession of 14 grams or less a misdemeanor in all cases and limits the fine for possession to $100 with no jail time. This is significantly smaller than the current Louisiana law, which imposes criminal penalties upon the first conviction of possession of 14 grams or less, a fine of up to $300, and imprisonment for 15 days.
The Louisiana Senate voted 20-17 to lift penalties for people charged with possession of marijuana for recreational use earlier this month. The bill was originally introduced by Rep. Cedric Glover.
Edwards, a Democrat who is often aligned with the state’s sheriffs and has long opposed legalizing marijuana, released a statement Tuesday following his signing of the bill:
This is not a decision I take lightly. In addition to carefully reviewing the bill, I also believe deeply that the state of Louisiana should no longer incarcerate people for minor legal infractions, especially those that are legal in many states, that can ruin lives and destroy families, as well as cost taxpayers greatly.
He noted that the bill passed Louisiana’s legislature with bipartisan support following a robust discussion of the toll of over-incarceration on the people of Louisiana. However, Edwards and other lawmakers backing the bill disputed that the legislation amounts to “decriminalizing” marijuana since those who violate the law can still be given penalties.
The National Conference of State Legislatures advises lawmakers around the US and defines decriminalization as making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil infraction or the lowest class of misdemeanor, with no possibility of jail time.
This is the next step forward in the reform of Louisiana’s traditionally punitive criminal justice efforts. The new law will take effect on August 1.